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Ketchikan in Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska — Northwest (North America)
 

From Planks to Pavement

North Front Street's Early Views

 
 
From Planks to Pavement Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, September 4, 2021
1. From Planks to Pavement Marker
Inscription.  At the turn of the century, Ketchikan's pioneer townsite sprouted up from the base of a rugged, uncleared rocky mountainside where it meets deep tidewater. The downtown business district was literally built upon pilings and planked decking, with numerous connecting boardwalks that were eventually widened into wooden streets and long stairways that climbed steep slopes above to link those new homes with a view. Construction of new frame buildings was a routine sight, with painted clapboard shingle signs everywhere announcing new business enterprises, to capitalize on the ever-increasing residents and their basic needs & services.

North Front Street, along with its lower south-end block counterpart, was the heart of Ketchikan's growth during the First City's formative boomtown years. The town's waterfront character was sculpted by the many wharf-related businesses fed by arriving steamer traffic, and colored by an enthusiastic populace that scurried about with carts and wheelbarrows of goods in their eagerness to build a fine new city. New hotels, mercantiles, canneries and cold storages, churches, schools, and government
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buildings rose up alongside saloons, dance halls, billiard parlors and bawdy houses — all boasting a hard-working, hard-playing frontier border town.

1902 & 1903 city ordinances, directed the initial wood plank construction of Front Street, about the time Ketchikan had electric power and lights. This short, boarded roadway was tom up in 1919 in favor of a permanent gravel road, and by 1920, Front Street became Alaska's first paved street. Front's central location along the main docks of Ketchikan's downtown commercial district made it an ideal perennial stage for most of the First City's traditional affairs and special events. Since America's Independence Day was first celebrated here in 1897, virtually all of Ketchikan's grand 4th of July Parades have passed down this short, time-worn avenue.

Very few of north Front Street's historical buildings have survived time's toll of fires, relocation and razing for street widening projects. The most significant buildings remaining today are: Ketchikan's City Hall, built in 1925-26 for Citizen's Light, Power & Water Company (a privately-owned utilities purchased by the city in 1935); The Gilmore Hotel Building, erected in 1926-27 by pioneer clothier and mayor P.J. Gilmore, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and the Stedman Hotel Building at the corner of Front & Dock streets,
From Planks to Pavement Marker detail (original) image. Click for full size.
Frank H. Nowell (via University of Washing Libraries, Special Collections), circa 1904
2. From Planks to Pavement Marker detail (original)
Ketchikan board street, with people and storefronts, including signs for Dr. Zuber, Dentist, Emerald Saloon, and the Ketchikan Restaurant.
built in 1905-06.

[Sidebars]
• One of Ketchikan's most outstanding pioneer families are the Hunts; headed by patriarch, Forrest J. Hunt, local businessman, 1906-07 mayor and Territorial Senator and his wife, Harriet E. Hunt, Ketchikan's great pioneer photographer and civic leader who helped establish Ketchikan's Public Library. The Hunt Family first settled in Wrangell in 1898, then a booming gateway to the Klondike. They moved to Ketchikan in 1900 and established Hunt's Grocery Company on Front Street, which pioneered shipment of iced seafood to outside markets, and later added a meat market and photo & curio business. Most of Ketchikan's early growth and pioneers' portraits were documented by Mrs. Hunt's fine work. Son, Dale, was also a Ketchikan mayor (1920-21) and businessman, and the entire family was active in promoting community growth and tourism. Front Street's two-story Hunt Building was a local landmark until destroyed in 1950 by an arson fire.
• Ketchikan's Nob Hill Historic District, located above the tunnel, features the former residences of many of the town's most prominent businessmen from the century's early decades, including the Ryus, Daly, Heckman & Heneghan families. Commanding the most impressive harbor views, these homes are among Ketchikan's best-known, being visible from both downtown and
From Planks to Pavement Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, September 4, 2021
3. From Planks to Pavement Marker
This marker is on the side that faces the street.
Newtown.
• Built about 1905, the two frame buildings at Nob Hill's base which bracketed the staircase to the neighborhood were a familiar sight at the N. end of Front Street, until they were razed in 1953 for the tunnel project. Last tenants were husband & wife Drs. Dickenson and Abercrombie's, the building at the stairs' right, was the early location of Citizen's Light, Power & Water Co. offices.

Captions
(Top, clockwise from left)
• Front St, circa 1902, viewing N Tongass Historical Society
• Ketchikan, Alaska's waterfront circa 1905 H. Hunt/Tongass Historical Society
• N. Front Street, circa 1906, viewing S. toward Ketchikan Spruce Mill.. Ketchikan Restaurant at left, is site of today's Gilmore Hotel. F.H. Nowell/University of Washington Libraries
(Center) The Hunt Family Pictured at front, L-R: Forrest J. Hunt & wife Harriet E. Hunt, and their children, L-R: Amy Hunt Craft, Bertha Hunt Wells, Dale Ward Hunt, and Elaine Hunt Talbot.
(Bottom, clockwise from left)
• Circa 1913. Dream Theater later became the Liberty Theater. Tongass Historical Society
• Hunt's Grocery Co. store in 1901 H. Hunt/THS
• Front St. wharf, circa 1904. H. Hunt/Tongass Historical Society
•
The Gilmore Hotel image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, September 4, 2021
4. The Gilmore Hotel
The 1927 building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dr. Muschard leads an early 1920s July 4 Parade down new pavement past Front & Dock Sts. Tongass Historical Society
 
Erected by Historic Ketchikan, Inc.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Roads & VehiclesSettlements & Settlers.
 
Location. 55° 20.549′ N, 131° 38.912′ W. Marker is in Ketchikan, Alaska, in Ketchikan Gateway Borough. Marker is at the intersection of Front Street and Water Street, on the right when traveling south on Front Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 348 Front Street, Ketchikan AK 99901, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Upon 'Thundering Wings' (here, next to this marker); Keeping the Catch! (here, next to this marker); The Gilmore Hotel (within shouting distance of this marker); Tongass Trading Company (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Star-crossed Square Riggers (about 500 feet away); Proud Canoes & Coastal Traders (about 500 feet away); When 'Steam was Queen' (about 500 feet away); Ketchikan Waterfront from Pennock Island, 1905 (about 600 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Ketchikan.
 
Also see . . .  Hunt Photos Show Ketchikan in Pioneer Days (PDF). Ketchikan's
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early days as seen through the lens of Harriet E. Hunt, by Dave Kiffer for online news site Stories in the News. Includes photos that are on the marker. Posted March 22, 2008. (Submitted on September 15, 2021, by Duane and Tracy Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.) 
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on September 15, 2021. It was originally submitted on September 15, 2021, by Duane and Tracy Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 332 times since then and 15 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on September 15, 2021, by Duane and Tracy Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

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Feb. 20, 2024